EXCELLENT. Overwhelming. Those were the words used by TT Cancer Society (TTCS) clinical manager Sherma Mills-Serrette to describe the turnout for a series of cancer-screening exercises in Tobago this week. The good turnout, particularly among men, is a sign of a culture change. But the authorities need to do even more to cater for the increased interest and to translate that interest into a reduction in cancer fatalities.
Scores turned up for screening at the Les Coteaux Health Facility, the old Scarborough Hospital, and the Charlotteville Health Centre. According to Mills-Serrette, In the past, men have been extremely hesitant to test for prostate cancer, but this trend is changing. The clinics run 9 am-2 pm, “And by the time we get in around 7.30, the place is already full,” she said. “We have already started to turn back people.” It is heartening to see this change.
In the period 2007 to 2017, cancer was the sixth leading cause of death, according to the Financing Global Health Database. In 2013, TT had the highest cancer mortality rate in the Americas, according to the Pan American Health Organization. Among men, the majority of cancer deaths are due to prostate cancer, and among women, breast cancer. The high number of deaths is preventable given the potential impact of early detection and treatment.
Many collaborations between the private and public sectors have borne fruit in terms of raising awareness. Companies such as Scotiabank and CIBC First Caribbean have provided sponsorship and the Tobago Regional Health Authority has partnered with the TTCS on its mobile clinic. These collaborations must continue.
The State must consider extending its efforts at heightening screening levels. While it is heartening to see the turnout increasing to the extent that people have to be turned away, it is not satisfactory that people have to be turned away in the first place. Earlier detection can reduce the mortality rate and save costs on the part of the State in the long run while bolstering the health and productivity of the population.
It is also important to address how gender and stereotypes continue to harm the overall effort. For instance, the mistaken perception that breast cancer cannot affect men is a myth which continues to have wings. While breast cancer in males is far exceeded by instances of the disease in females, about one per cent of cancer cases in men will be breast cancer, according to the University of TT. And these cases, associated with genetics, are almost always fatal.
Everyone, therefore, should be encouraged to learn about this disease, to exercise, and to get screened.